Career Comparison
April 1, 2024

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Career Path Differences & Skills

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Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Career Path Differences & Skills

Researching your future career path is important when it comes to choosing a healthcare field that you are passionate about.

Medical assisting and licensed practical nursing are two different types of professions that follow certain career paths that aspiring healthcare industry students should get to know.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers all the information we need to properly differentiate medical assistant vs. LPN careers, and today, we are going to showcase all you need to know about the similarities, differences, and responsibilities of both healthcare fields.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Overview

Medical assistants are healthcare professionals trained to perform clinical duties and administrative tasks under the supervision of a physician or other healthcare professionals.

The main characteristic of certified medical assistants is the fact that they are suited to take over administrative and clinical duties based on the requirements of their work environments, such as scheduling appointments.

On the other hand, a licensed practical nurse (LPN), is also a healthcare worker, but they are mainly trained to provide basic patient care and clinical support under the direct supervision of registered nurses or physicians.

Unlike medical assistants, LPNs often don’t perform routine administrative tasks and focus more on clinical tasks in the healthcare field.

Nursing vs. medical assisting career paths are different as a whole, so it is important to understand the difference between LPNs and medical assistants in order to properly choose the career path that better suits you. 

Are LPNs and RNs the Same?

Licensed Practical Nurses are not the same as Registered Nurses - the differences between LPNs and RN are prominent and easily recognizable.

For starters, LPNs follow condensed vocational LPN programs to learn how to provide basic medical care to patients.

On the contrary, registered nurses (RNs) must complete extensive college and bachelor’s degree programs with several years of education in order to become a registered nurse.

An LPN nursing program prepares a professional to excel in practical skills, whereas registered nurses need to have a higher level of academic and critical thinking in order to perform more complex job responsibilities. 

Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurses: Tasks and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of medical assistants vary based on their work environment and the requirements of physicians and other healthcare workers. 

Certified medical assistants are suited to work in both healthcare facilities and offices that require the performance of administrative duties.

LPNs' responsibilities are more driven toward providing direct patient care (and more extensive patient care if needed) than medical assistants.

These are the main differences in the scope of responsibilities for both LPNs and CMAs.

Licensed Practical Nurses Job Duties Medical Assistant Clinical and Administrative Duties
  • Administer medications and monitor patient health.
  • Measure vital signs and perform patient examinations.
  • Drawing blood under the supervision of RNs or physicians.
  • Keep on patient records if required.
  • Discuss patient care measures and guide patients with medical treatments.
  • Assist in administrative procedures inside medical offices.
  • Scheduling patient appointments and maintaining medical records.
  • Give patient injections depending on state laws.
  • Record patient history and organize medical records.
  • Prepare blood samples for lab tests.
  • Record patient vitals and blood pressure.
  • Be proficient in medical terminology.

Medical Assistants vs. Licensed Practical Nurses: Work Environment

Most medical assistants work in the office of physicians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In general, medical assistants are required to work standard 40-hour work shifts with standard requirements that can be found in other healthcare industries

However, the common work environment of LPNs are nursing and residential care facilities, which require them to work weekends, nights, and holidays.

As of 2021, there were 743,000 jobs for medical assistants in the U.S. versus 657,200 jobs for licensed practical nurses.

These are the most relevant statistics regarding CMA and LPN work environments expressed in the largest employers:

LPN Work Environment Overview CMA Work Environment Overview
  • Nursing homes and residential care facilities - 35 percent.
  • Public, state, or private hospitals - 15 percent.
  • Home healthcare services - 14 percent.
  • Offices of physicians - 12 percent.
  • Government facilities - 7 percent.
  • Physician offices - 58 percent.
  • Private, state, or public hospitals - 15 percent.
  • Outpatient care centers - 9 percent.
  • Offices of chiropractors - 4 percent.

Industries with the Highest Levels of Employment for Medical Assistants and LPNs

Most medical assistants work in the offices of physicians, but more and more medical assistants are also getting employed in other fields.

If we analyze the most prominent industries for CMAs based on employment numbers, then these are the top ones:

  1. Offices of Physicians - 421,960.
  2. General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - 106,640.
  3. Outpatient Care Centers - 64,650.
  4. Offices of Other Health Practitioners - 58,920.
  5. Employment Services - 13,850. 

The industries with the highest levels of employment for licensed practical nurses are the following:

  1. Nursing Care Facilities - 177,960.
  2. Home Health Care Services - 89,280.
  3. Offices of Physicians - 80,510.
  4. General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - 78,090.
  5. Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly - 45,200.

Licensed Practical Nursing vs. Medical Assisting Professionals: Skills

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) should have important skills and qualities to successfully perform their job duties.

Some of the most valuable and recognized qualities of licensed practical nurses are interpersonal skills, compassion, patience, great communication, and attention to detail.

Since LPNs are in close contact with patients, and they are also required to endure heavy work shifts, they should also have enough physical stamina to perform physical tasks.

On the other hand, medical assisting requires professionals to be detail-oriented to follow all direct patient care requirements by physicians and other professionals.

Technical skills and analytical thinking are also required to properly interpret medical scenarios and know how to act according to the work environment’s needs.

LPN vs. CMA: Education

There are different roles in the medical field that have varied educational requirements. However, it is worth noting that educational programs to become CMAs or LPNs are similar in length and requirements.

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

In order to become an LPN, aspiring students need to complete a 1-year (on average) accredited program.

These LPN nursing programs can often be found in community colleges, technical schools, high schools, or hospitals.

After completing the program, it is necessary for prospective LPNs to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to receive a Practical Nursing diploma.

It’s a country-wide requirement in all states to complete this certification exam in order to get a license to work as an LPN.

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

To become a medical assistant, it’s not necessary to complete license requirements after finishing a medical assisting program. Overall, many medical assistants complete a postsecondary education program that takes between 1 and 2 years.

It’s possible to complete a medical assistant program in a community college that leads to an associate degree. These programs are sought after by employers, but they are not a 100% necessary requirement to work as a medical assistant.

Aspiring students should look for known accredited medical assistant programs in the US, such as the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from National Healthcareer Association (NHA) and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Medical Assistant versus LPN: Salary

Medical assistant’s average salary was determined by the BLS in 2021. It is worth noting that salaries for medical assistants vary based on the industry and the job location (state).

Likewise, the average salary of LPNs is also determined by the location of the professional and the industry they work in. The median average annual wage for medical assistants is $37,190, while the median annual wage for LPNs is $48,070.

These are the most relevant statistics regarding the average salary of both LPNs and CMAs based on industries.

  1. Government facilities - $52,210
  2. Nursing and residential care facilities - $49,620
  3. Home healthcare services - $48,350
  4. Private, local or state hospitals - $47,000
  5. Physician offices - $46,870
  1. Outpatient care centers - $38,270
  2. Private, local, or state hospitals - $37,800
  3. Offices of physicians - $37,150
  4. Offices of chiropractors - $30,100

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Job Outlook

The occupational outlook for licensed practical nurses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Over the course of a decade, 58,800 openings for LPNs are projected to appear each year. This means that the overall employment of LPNs will be 698,500 in 2031, which represents an increase of 41,300 if compared to the employment numbers of 2021 (657,200).

Similarly, the job outlook for medical assistants also looks promising: the employment of medical assistants is expected to grow 16 percent from 2021 to 2031.

This means that 123,000 openings are projected each year over the course of a decade. The projected employment for medical assistants in 2031 is expected to be 861,300.

Medical Assistants vs. LPNs: Differences and Similarities

The educational requirements, training, and duties performed by both a medical assistant and licensed practical nurse are very similar, but there are some punctual differences that should be taken into account before choosing a single career path.

Let’s make a recap of the most important differences and similarities between CMAs and LPNs:

  1. Certified medical assistants are trained to perform both administrative and clinical duties.
  2. Licensed practical nurses are trained to perform more clinical-related tasks related to patient care.
  3. The average salary of LPNs is higher than the salary of CMAs ($48,070 vs. $37,190).
  4. There are more jobs for CMAs (743,000) than for LPNs (657,200), and the employment levels will grow at a higher pace (16 percent) for medical assistants than for licensed practical nurses (6 percent) over the course of ten years.
  5. Both CMAs and LPNs are required to work under the direct supervision of registered nurses, physicians, and other professionals.


Are Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses The Same?

Yes - licensed practical nurse (LPN) and licensed vocational nurse (LVN) are different job titles for the same job description. The term Licensed Vocational Nurse is used in California and Texas, while Licensed Practical Nurse is used throughout the rest of the United States.

Do RNs Earn More Money than LPNs?

Yes - on average, LPNs earn around $48,070 per year, whereas RNs earn $77,600. It is worth noting that RNs have more educational requirements and bigger scopes of responsibilities than licensed practical nurses. 

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